Recently, we've been talking a lot about cancer prevention. One step in cancer prevention is reducing you and your pet's chemical exposure. There are harmful chemicals in everyday products, many of which we use around our homes without thinking about it.
Where are harmful chemicals in everyday products?
There are three main ways you, your family members, or your pets are exposed to harmful chemicals in everyday products.
1. Ingestion People or pets can ingest harmful chemicals by putting products that were sprayed with pesticides or herbicides in their mouths. Pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on many everyday products, from fruits and vegetables to your lawn to your kitchen counters. Pets can ingest pesticides by eating grass that was sprayed with pesticide. Kids often ingest pesticides by placing toys or dirt from areas treated with chemicals in their mouths. Even adults can ingest pesticides if they don't carefully wash fruits and vegetables or if food prep areas aren't cleaned with natural cleaners.
2. Inhalation Indoors and outdoors, we often breath low-quality air. Smog warnings and ozone indicators make it easy to tell how bad the air outside is, but it can be harder to detect chemicals inside. Many building materials quietly leach, or "offgass", chemicals through evaporation. This means we inhale toxic chemicals from window film, paint, or even bug spray. The famous "new car smell" we love so much is actually the result of offgassing!
3. Absorption Absorption occurs when toxic chemicals contact pet or human skin and are absorbed into the blood vessels just under the skin's surface. Sometimes, we apply these chemicals directly to our skin without knowing it. Many cosmetics and beauty products contain harsh chemicals, so if you use lipstick or apply lice shampoo to your child, these products may contain toxins. Topical flea treatments, or "spot drops", usually contain neurotoxins that are absorbed into a pet's bloodstream and can cause cancer, seizures, or death. Other times, chemicals are absorbed unintentionally, like if we walk barefoot in an area that was recently sprayed with toxic pest control chemicals.
How can we reduce our chemical exposure?
Chemical exposure is so pervasive that 99% of pregnant women show levels of PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) and phthalates, and 232 toxic chemicals have been found in the umbilical blood of U.S. newborns.
For our health and the health of our loved ones, it's important to reduce chemical exposure whenever possible. Here are suggestions for removing toxic chemicals from your environment, based on the categories discussed above.
- Buy organic food. Organic foods aren't sprayed with pesticide, by definition, so there is less risk that you can ingest pesticides from food.
- Read food labels and avoid ingredients you can't pronounce or that are only identified by numbers.
- Buy or make non-toxic cleaners. Mind Body Green recommends baking soda, vinegar, and citrus.
- Decorate with houseplants. Many types of plants reduce toxins and refresh indoor areas while reducing stress and boosting productivity. Specifically, NASA found that plants naturally eliminate benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene through their respiration process. As long as plants are potted in soil and have a root system, they're helpful.
- Kill bugs with safe pest control that don't release toxins into the air.
- Treat your home and yard with safe pest control that isn't absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Use natural beauty products. Whole Foods and Swanson both offer great options.
- Choose mineral sunscreen over chemical-based formulas, which can contain allergens and hormone disruptors.
- Avoid bug sprays that contain DEET. Choose natural remedies instead.
- Opt for natural laundry detergents that are biodegradable, hypoallergenic, plant-based, and fragrance-free. The government doesn't require ingredient disclosure on cleaning products, so most companies don't list them.